Reconnecting and Refocusing


There are three things in my life that I value greatly: good friends, good conversations, and great ideas. There’s nothing like picking someone’s brain over a nice cup of coffee and discovering something new in the process. This is part of my creative ritual; it’s how new projects begin for me.

The past two weeks have been overflowing in abundance with such things and people. I was in dire need of reconnecting with my Bay Area roots and of being around the people who inspire me and whom I respect. The first part my adventure began on the patio of Julie’s Coffee and Tea Garden in Alameda with my wife and our dear friend Tara. It was a perfect Bay Area afternoon. As I sketched, we talked about traveling, languages, and food. Exactly the type of conversation that I like to have. Things only got better after this. Later that evening, we drove to Oakland to our friend Sebastian’s house for a fabulous get together. We talked; we drank; we laughed; we sang; I saw people I hadn’t seen in almost 30 years, and I gorged myself on Maria’s tortilla de patatas! Hombre, ¡que delicia! It just doesn’t get better than that. A huge thanks to Kevin, Tara, and Sebastian for making our time in the Bay Area so enjoyable. The following day started with a yummy breakfast and conversation at local country diner, Marti’s Place. We topped off our breakfast with a serving of blintzes — yumm! At that moment life was pretty damn good. I like Alameda; I could easily live there if not for the price of rent. I must admit that I’m pretty fortunate as I’ve spent a lot of time in the Bay Area over the past 30 plus years. Most of the major events in my life have taken place there — the Bay Area will always be my home to me. After saying our goodbyes after breakfast we drove to San Francisco and met up with friends from Washington State who were passing through. It was their first time in The City, so we got to play tour guides.

Finally, this past weekend, we spent our Saturday in Davis doing all the things that we love doing: hanging in cafes, watching good movies, going to bookstores, eating good food, and hanging at cafes even more. Watching Spike Lee’s new film, Blackklansman, was a highlight for me. Despite its subject matter being vile and abhorrent, it’s still something that must be addressed in this day and age. It’s treatment of racism is unapologetic and a punch to the gut of the viewer. I can’t recommend it highly enough. See it. Afterwards, we walked across the street and spent time in the Avid Reader because, you know, you can’t ever have enough books. Sure enough, I scored a brand spanking new copy of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. That made me a happy camper. We rounded off our day with a delicious dinner al fresco at a Mexican joint called Toro Bravo. Yeah, I’ll have a five gallon jug of their bean dip fed intravenously to me next time, thank you. Afterwards, we topped dinner off with a trip over to The Davis Creamy. A scoop of avocado coconut and a scoop of vanilla and, well, it’s not getting any better than that.

The past three weeks have done exactly what I wanted them to do: they have recharged my batteries, helped me refocus, and given me a much needed kick in the arse. Let the projects begin!

My Week In Words and Pictures

Another week of adventures, another journal spread. This is the metronomic pace by which I live my life. My days have become events that need to be chronicled and preserved no matter how grandiose or pedestrian they may be. Those events then go from being pages in my journal to becoming blog posts, social media posts, and ultimately who knows what — you’re guess is as good as mine. Book editors out in the wide world, that’s a big nudge to you.
This past week was good and I managed to get a good sketchbook spread out of it. Weather it’s having a beer or two with friends, enjoying a free play in the park, watching a really good documentary on someone whose work I admire, or drawing unsuspecting victims at my local Starbucks , it’s all about capturing moments that will never return. This past week was filled with lots of great music as you can tell from my Clapton Playlist. All those songs were flowing through my earbuds this week as I worked on my latest journal spread. Listening to music as I work is something that I’ve been doing for as long as I’ve been drawing; it truly is one of the most pleasurable things that one you can do with your time.

For those of you reading this post who keep a sketch-journal, make sure that you’re capturing those all important moments in your own lives that come and go in a flash. Good or bad, it doesn’t matter, put ‘em down and give them a place to exist. Eventually, at some point, you’ll look back and give thanks that you chronicled your daily life as it happened. Doing so will give you insight into your own life in a way no other medium can. Such is the magic of keeping a sketch-journal.

Make Art, Be Happy



“Make art, be happy,” popped into my mind this morning as I was having my first cup of coffee while drawing in my sketchbook and listening to my Steely Dan playlist on Spotify. I often have these types of thoughts pop into my mind that throw me a curveball; they’re deceptively simple but they somehow make perfect sense. Crazy, right. There’s a lot to be said for keeping things simple.

This past week has been decent; it’s been a mixture of both good and bad — mostly good. At the end of it all, I learned a few things. One of them is that the things that leave a bitter taste in your mouth are often the things that teach you the best lessons. At my age, I’ve learned that there are something’s that are simply not worth my time and that it’s best to move on. A lot of my thinking is done as I draw. That’s one of the magic things about drawing: I can totally cut everything around me out and focus on one thing. It enables me to work through whatever it is as I put pencil or pen to paper.

This week’s drawing afforded me to sit and enjoy music and podcasts that put new ideas into my head. That in of itself is priceless. Household objects may seem boring but they’re actually quite fun to draw. Not only are they great practice but they also challenge you to try and put some character into them and use them to help you communicate what you’re experiencing at any given moment. It’s like a quick snapshot of a moment in your daily life that others wouldn’t necessarily ever know about. That type of communication is what art is all about; pulling the viewer into your personal world is the whole point. Writing and drawing about your daily life is one of the best things you can do. It’s therapeutic, it helps you to focus, and it gives you an outlet to express yourself. What more could you ask for, right? Make art and be happy.

My Life On Paper

Keeping a sketch-journal for the better part of three decades is respectable to say the least. I used to go to cafes to draw and I’d never see anyone else doing the same thing. It was strange to see that. Okay, maybe every once in a great while I’d see another bloke with a sketchbook but it wasn’t very often that I did. Nowadays, that’s changed. Now, it seems like everyone is lugging around a sketchbook — I think that’s great. I, personally, can’t imagine myself not carrying my sketchbook around with me. What if something amazingly awesome were to happen in front of me? Can’t draw it without my sketchbook.

Over the years, I’ve written and drawn about all sorts of stuff in my journal: ideas, thoughts, feelings, opinions, you name it, I’ve written about it. Throughout my years of graphic journaling I’ve felt like there’s never been a real balance between what I write and what I draw. I think that a successful sketch-journal should reflect both aspects in equal measure. Ah, the ongoing struggles of a working artist. I wonder how many people ever imagine such things when looking through my sketch-journal? My gut instinct tells me not many. I’m not surprised and ultimately I don’t really care.

There’s always something to write about and there’s always something to draw; every single day is filled with strange and wonderful things done by people who are strange and who do strange things all the time. You just never know what you’re going to see and hear on any given day. Good, bad, stupid, pompous, disgusting — it’s all game for my trusty Rapidograph. There’s going to be a whole lot of that in my forthcoming journal pages. What will make it all different is the approach that I’ll be taking: a little more honest, a little more reflective, a little sarcastic, a little more to the point. It’s the only way to do this. Barbara Bradley, the head of the illustration department at The Academy of Art College in the 80s used to say, “Put it down with authority,” when it came to drawing; those sage words can also apply to writing as well. When someone looks at my sketch-journal my life has to be on those pages otherwise I didn’t do what I was supposed to do.

Lastly, a word about the sketch for this post. I’d been sitting at my local coffeehouse drawing and sucking up the free AC for the better part of a Sunday Afternoon and I had started to pack my things up when suddenly, outside the window, I saw this vision of beauty appear. There was no way that I was leaving before drawing her. Beautiful dark eyes, long lashes, long dark thick hair, how could I resist? Thankfully, she sat for quite a while as she conversed thus allowing  me to immortalize her in the pages of my journal. Job done.

Doing What I do

Today, I started my day at my local coffeehouse working in my sketchbook. It was a cloudy, cold, rainy day so there were lots of folks sitting inside having tasty hot beverages. I’m about halfway through my softcover Stillman & Birn Alpha series sketchbook, and I must say that I’ve found it very nice to work in. I’ll definitely being buying another as soon as I’m finished with this one. Along with drawings of cafe patrons, this sketchbook has also allowed me to start stretching and exploring other stylistic options as well. Interestingly, this sketchbook has not only allowed me to experiment, but it’s also reminded me of the importance of it also being a journal for opinions, thoughts, and ideas.

As I was drawing, a young man sitting over at the bar waved, gave me a thumbs up, and flashed his sketchbook at me. I wandered over, and greeted him. We had a really good discussion and he asked for some advice. He’s just starting out, but he definitely wants to learn. More importantly, he’s willing to listen to critical feedback. This puts him ahead of a lot of people. Today, people get offended far too easily when it comes to such things. I always say, “You can either be offended or you can learn.” It was a pleasure speaking to someone who clearly wants to learn. I love sharing my knowledge and encouraging younger artists when the opportunity presents itself. I feel that it’s something important because it’s not every day that you run into someone with decades of experience who’s willing to give you advice. All in all, it’s been a good day. Life is good.